Padman: An Out and Out Crowd Pleaser
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Based on the inspiring journey of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man who invented the low-cost sanitary napkin machine, Padman is a film that will leave you with mixed feelings. On one hand, its emotional first half ties you up to its narrative, firmly. In fact, it even makes room for clever humor every now and then.
Furthermore, it takes up a tabooed topic such as menstruation and presents it in a family-friendly package. But on the other hand, it is an out and out crowd pleaser. If you go into the theatres expecting anything more, you will be disappointed. This means, you will be a witness to the film’s fair share of clichéd heroic moments every now and then. As long as you view the film as yet another Akshay Kumar film whose recent niceties are comforting, you are fine. Dig any deeper, problems in the writing will undoubtedly unravel.
Hailing from the small-town of Maheshwar, Lakshmikant Chauhan (Akshay Kumar) is a man with the mind of an inventor. His household inventions are sparked every time his wife Gayathri (Radhika Apte) is under distress. When she sheds tears while slicing onions, he constructs an adorable onion chopper for her. When she appears uncomfortable while sitting on his bicycle, he replaces the carrier with a seat to put her at ease. So, when he notices her using a dirty rag during her monthly menstruation, he is determined to invent a way to make low-cost sanitary napkins that could benefit the women in his village as well. His journey of trial and error and the obstacles that stand in the way of his invention form the crux of the film.
Padman draws its strength from its central character, Lakshmikant Chauhan. His charm and sense of humor establishes an instant connection with the audience. It doesn’t matter if he’s climbing balconies or squatting to test out a new sanitary napkin, he always makes you feel what he feels. Director Balki succeeds in establishing this key connection. With time, you let yourself be drawn to a story that sometimes acts as a PSA and sometimes a mass entertainer; and this is all because of a character that is quirky enough to borrow more money from a money-lender who is at his door, demanding that he pay him back. Due to this light-hearted approach, you see past the tonal inconsistencies in the first half.
The second half though, makes many missteps and puts into action one too many clichés. Take Pari’s relationship with Lakshmi for instance, every time he is in trouble she automatically arrives to save him. This kind of writing, though convenient appears to be a lazy hack. The first time she discovers him, her actions are believable. But time and again, when her character is used just to move things forward for him, it is unconvincing. The love triangle between them is especially unnecessary. As long as Pari and Lakshmi are good friends things sail smoothly, the moment a possibility of being something more is introduced, their track becomes icky. You start to wonder if this is where the melodrama in the tale becomes too unbearable.
From playing Ranjit Katyal in Airlift to playing Keshav in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Akshay Kumar has recently been picking characters who often wear their hearts on their sleeves. So, his portrayal of Lakshmikant Chauhan too is most definitely earnest. Whatever he lacks in finesse, he makes up for in timely humor and lasting charisma. In fact, his character is undoubtedly the saving grace of the film. Without the spark Lakshmikant brings, the film is bound to become just another Bollywood entertainer.
As Gayathri, Radhika Apte has limited scope to perform. Gayathri is mostly seen facing grief or embarrassment. But Apte bashes these limitations and shines through her because of her ability to make you invest in her character’s journey. In the end, you begin to understand Gayathri’s perspective.
As Pari, Sonam Kapoor keeps it breezy. But there are many problems in her character construction. Owing to her character’s name, Pari seems to have been placed just to render solutions to Lakshmikant’s problems. Furthermore, Pari’s background as a Tabla player seems completely irrelevant to the film.
Amit Trivedi’s background music is mostly overbearing. But the local flavor of his songs make up for the jarring BGM. Cinematographer P.C Sreeram takes up a radiant color palette for the first time in ages. The DOP is known for his visual-play with shadows and deep undertones. But his colorful deviation in Padman is admirable. His vibrant visualscape surrounding Narmada and Maheshwar makes you want to take a walk down the lively streets of Madhya Pradesh.
On the whole, Padman basks in the spark that its central character, Lakshmikant Chauhan brings to the table. It even manages to take the topic of menstrual hygiene into the homes of families through its crowd pleasing approach. But if you go looking for unpredictability or innovation, the inconsistent writing will leave you disappointed.